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Yesterday Joe Hall became annoyed. Otherwise soft spoken outspoken Joe had some choice words for an SEO company which had come up with what can be described as a creative way to get +1's:

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The site's pages contained an inline popup layover thingie. You know, the page gets dimmed, the inline popup appears and then you have to click somewhere?

No biggie – popups work, after all – but this popup was different. This popup pretended to be a "spam" blocker. What? You're not a spammer?!?! Well, click the +1 and get immediate access to the site! It's that simple!

A kerfuffle broke out with the offending company claiming to be not only fully above the board with this but also that Google is A-OK with it.

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Which seems too silly to be true – and Joe Hall quickly pointed it out:

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Yet the weird truth of the matter is that as long as no money or prizes exchange hands, publishers may exchange content for clicks:

Publishers may not direct users to click a Google+ Button for purposes of misleading users. Publishers may not promote prizes, monies, or monetary equivalents in exchange for Google+ Button clicks. For the avoidance of doubt, Publishers may direct users to a Google+ Button to enable content and functionality. When a Publisher directs users to a Google+ Button, the button action must be related to the Publisher or the Publishers content.
Google button policy (Ed.:yes, they have a button policy Smile)*

Not long after Alan Bleiweiss – not a stranger to uncovering even criminal activities during an SEO audit – became involved the company decided to take the popup down.

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I think they did the right thing there. I also wouldn't be surprised if the company actually did receive confirmation that this " having to click +1 to get access to content " from Google. I'm pretty sure you're as surprised as I am to read that, yes, Google's policies are OK with this.

What do you think about this line in Google's policy? Surprised?

* button policy archived here.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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22 Responses to “To Everyone's Surprise Google Says "Sure, Go Ahead" To Swapping +1 Clicks For Content”

  1. Joe Hall says:

    If we set the bar by Google's standards, we have already sold out. If you are constantly pushing the boundaries, and looking for Google loopholes, you aren't building a business.

  2. Alan Bleiweiss says:

    "To view our content, please click the Google +1 button below" is a LOT different, than saying "we need to be sure you're human, so click our spam prevention button".

    Yeah, people may argue that's not true, however that's a semantics issue and because I step out of my educated internet marketing mind long enough to consider how non internet marketing people would evaluate that pop-up, it then become deception.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Absolutely. What's Google-borderline-scary though is that if they wouldn't have tried to deceive but simply say "to read this post, click +1" — that would have been A-OK. To me the +1 button as an on/off switch is something completely different from the +1 button to upvote something.

  3. SteveG says:

    Although technically asking someone to +1 the post 'before' they can even see it is also borderline. If you treat the +1 as a clicker to simply count passersby that's one thing (if so we should be able to automate it). But if we view +1 and an actual vote, which is what most people use it for, asking for a +1 to see content is backwards.

    All that said, if Google doesn't care how their social network is gamed then why should we? It looks like a loose interpretation of the rules by Google simply to get more people to use it.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      It strikes me as odd. On the other hand it can play to Google's plans if users start to associate the +1 button with a "key" to unlock extra's, goodies, etc.

      I find the whole thing — from Google to this example — very iffy….

  4. Fran Irwin says:

    If pages can "Like-gate" or "Klout-score-gate" content, doing it with the +1 button isn't that different. The original example that Joe posted- Click +1 to skip to the content or wait 20 seconds- seems to be pretty close to the line of what's okay and what isn't.

  5. Apparently the SEO community has selective reading skills. I see no problem with using a popup like that. Anyone who objects has the option of NOT CLICKING THROUGH.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Part of the problem is that they claim it's a spam check to weed out robots and spammers from us regular folks. That's just not true. Of course there's always the voluntary option; the "don't click it", "don't read it", "don't buy it". There's no need for a false dilemma there; we can opt to not use it while the popup is still very borderline :)

      The idea is creative though and I think the option to have a +1 unlock extra's — well, that's just tempting.

  6. That's a ridiculous complaint. Unless someone can show that a spambot will click on a +1 it's a perfectly valid method of blocking scrapers.

    Unless you guys are ready to admit that all the +1 polls are similar violations of the guidelines, you're standing on very wet sand.

    No one should be subjected to this kind of ridicule and abuse on the basis of SEO opinions and interpretations about Google's terms of service. THEY ASKED and were given assurances that the use was legitimate.

    End of discussion.

  7. Kelvin Jones says:

    Somewhat misleading to call it anti-spam if you get to see the article anyway. But here's to creative uses of the +1 I can think of dozens from this example.
    This is surely Google's effort to get us to use and adopt their service… that and the "adopt it or we'll rank others above you" silliness that seems to be in the pipeline… a bit like the first Panda update really!

  8. Aussiewebmaster says:

    I actually like the use here – not as a spam blocker but as an entrance to the content – tell people the click gets them in – then have a box at the bottom that says unclick if you did not like the content…

    we have Facebook etc sign ins now – anyone that is not a Facebook user may sign up for Facebook so obviously FB does not mind this being used… so why not G+

    • Ruud Hein says:

      As an entrance it's great. As a misrepresentation (a "spam blocker") it's borderline sneaky. I have no problem with a beautiful graphic CTA saying "help us rank: click here". Or: "support the cause: click +1" etc.

  9. Bob says:

    This is pure genius in action – I'm serious. They not only got a lot of +1's almost for free, but they also knew when to step back and get away with "booty" (+1's in this case) without harming their reputation too much.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      This is the kind of thing that can harm your reputation in some SEO circles; thing is that the SEO world is much larger than the people you and I know. Right now hundreds of SEO's have no idea about this incident — let alone prospects.

    • Bob says:

      Ruud – some SEO circles, not all SEO circles. Some will whine about "ethic", some will admire cleverness. It's all about risk management – it's business which means you do anything you can (within law boundaries) to get an advantage over competition. Some companies (SEO agencies clients) don't want to get involved in that kind of SEO tactis, the others will embrace them. We both know it's true.

  10. Not surprised that Google would initially allow this SEO company to game their +1 button because, well, they need to. At least initially. While marketing professionals see the potential value of the +1 to their marketing efforts, people outside of the industry have been cool to the Google Plus movement.

    So, big "G" initially allows agencies to game their button, then expresses outrage down the line and reverses course once G+ is more established. The agencies are left dealing with the fallout. Is this white hat? Black hat? Plus-hat? Who can say?

    Conspiracy? Yep. Plausible? 100%

  11. Jeff Loquist says:

    I'm honestly not surprised by this at all from Google. I think – and more so in the recent past – that as a company they have shown that their self-interest is much more important than the interests of their users. As a company Google REALLY wants to get into the social arena and so allowing companies to SPAM their users (which is exactly what they were doing) falls right in line with their recent actions.

    And Good on Joe Hall for calling them out on it.

  12. [...] Ruud Hein on Search Engine People about someone using the Google+ button in a somewhat sketchy way: To Everyone's Surprise Google Says "Sure, Go Ahead" To Swapping +1 Clicks For Cont…. There's some great discussion in the comments as well. While you're there, click over [...]